Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus as Wisdom Incarnate –

Dealing with the Assertions of a Muslim polemicist Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We continue our discussion from where we left off.

The fourth problem with Williams’ assertions is that he erroneously assumes that in Luke 11:49, Jesus could not have been identifying himself as God’s Wisdom since he refers to it in the third person. Yet this ignores the fact that the Gospels often depict Jesus as referring to himself in the third person:

“As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, ‘This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Luke 11:29-32

“And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.” Luke 12:8-10

“‘But behold the hand of him who betrays Me is with Me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!’ … While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’” Luke 22:21-22, 47-48

“Then He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” Luke 24:44-47

Fifth, in Luke 11:49 Wisdom is the one that shall send prophets and apostles:

“Because of this, the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,’”

Yet according to Luke it is Jesus who both commissions and sends prophets and apostles:

“Summoning the Twelve, HE GAVE THEM power and authority over all demons, and power to heal diseases. Then HE SENT THEM to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. ‘Take nothing for the road,’ He told them, ‘no walking stick, no traveling bag, no bread, no money; and don’t take an extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. If they do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and traveled from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere… When the apostle returned, they reported to Jesus all that they had done… John reported, ‘Lord, we saw someone driving out demons IN YOUR NAME, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.’ ‘Don’t stop him,’ Jesus told him, ‘because whoever is not against you is for you.’” Luke 9:1-6, 10, 49-50

“After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, AND HE SENT THEM AHEAD OF HIM in pairs to every town and place where He himself was about to go. He told them: ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. Now go; I AM SENDING YOU OUT like lambs among wolves. Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this household.” If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t be moving from house to house. When you enter any town, and they welcome you, eat the things set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” When you enter any town, and they don’t welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “We are wiping off as a witness against you even the dust of your town that clings to our feet. Know this for certain: The kingdom of God has come near.” I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town… Whoever listens to you listens to Me. Whoever rejects you rejects Me. And whoever rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.’ The Seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us IN YOUR NAME.’ He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will ever harm you. However, don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” Luke 10:1-12, 16-20

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day He was taken up, after He had given orders through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. He said, ‘This is what you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 1:1-8

And here is what the Apostle Paul wrote concerning this issue:

“He Who descended is the very One Who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:10-16

The reason why Luke portrays Jesus doing precisely what God’s Wisdom is supposed to do is because the inspired author obviously believed that Christ is none other than Wisdom in the flesh! As the following NT scholar explains:

“… Here it is possible that God is spoken of as Wisdom, but more probably the reference is not to some past sending of prophets by God, in view of the reference to apostles, especially in view of the fact that the verb is in the future tense, ‘I will send.’ In other words, it is more likely that this refers to Jesus’ sending forth of emissaries, who will sometimes be rejected by this generation. This comports with the famous commissioning traditions found in Matt. 10:11ff. and par., where the possible rejection of Jesus’ agents was spoken of. We find a further tradition to this effect in Mark 13:9-13 and par. The term ‘apostles’ may of course be Luke’s use of later Christian jargon, but there is no reason to reject the saying as a whole on the basis of this one word. Here then we may have further evidence that Jesus during his ministry is identified as God’s Wisdom on earth.” (Ben Witherington III, The Many Faces of Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond [The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998], p. 67; bold emphasis ours)

Sixth, Luke provides enough examples to substantiate the fact that he, too, viewed Christ as Wisdom Incarnate (cf. Luke 7:31-32/Proverbs 1:24-28; 9:57-58/Sirach 36:31; 1 Enoch 42:1-3; 10:21-22/Wisdom 8:3-4, 9:9; 12:13-21/Sirach 11:18-19; 22:26-27/Sirach 32:1). A full exposition of these texts will have to wait for our upcoming series on the subject of the NT describing Christ as God’s eternal Wisdom that became flesh.

The preceding factors lead us to conclude that Luke, in complete agreement with Matthew, Paul and John, portrayed Jesus as Wisdom Incarnate.

Hence, Matthew 23:34 simply makes explicit what is already implicit in Luke 11:49, namely, Jesus is the Wisdom of God who sends forth prophets, apostles, wise men etc., some of whom would be persecuted and killed.

This is brought out more clearly in the following quotation, taken from the earliest extant harmonization of the Gospels:

1 Matthew 23:34 Therefore, behold, I, the wisdom of God, am sending unto you prophets, and apostles, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you shall slay and crucify; and some of them you shall beat in your synagogues, and persecute from city to 2 city: Matthew 23:35 that there may come on you all the blood of the righteous that has been poured upon the ground from the blood of Abel the pure to the blood of Zachariah the son of Barachiah, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. 3 Matthew 23:36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.  (Tatian, Diatessaron, Section 41; *; bold emphasis ours)

Williams may still wish to argue that Luke denies that Jesus is Wisdom since, in 7:35, he depicts both Christ and John the Baptist as Wisdom’s children.

Just in case he does raise this canard we only need to remind him that the context indicates that it is not Jesus or the Baptist who are Wisdom’s children, but those who embrace their teachings that are thus called:

“‘I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And when all the people, including the tax collectors, heard this, they acknowledged God’s way of righteousness, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But since the Pharisees and experts in the law had not been baptized by him, they rejected the plan of God for themselves. ) To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to each other: We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we sang a lament, but you didn’t weep! For John the Baptist did not come eating bread or drinking wine, and YOU say, “He has a demon!” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and YOU say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’” Luke 7:28-35

It is obvious that Wisdom’s children refer to those who believe in Jesus and John, in contrast to the ones that rejected them whom Jesus described as children sitting in the marketplace.

As Witherington puts it:

66 Various scholars fail to see the awkwardness of the “Wisdom is vindicated by all her children” form of this saying that Luke offers. The reference in Luke 7:32 to “children” is to the audience of Jesus and John who did not respond to these two messengers. This makes the idea of a reference to Jesus and John in the “children” phrase in v 35 very suspect. What makes it all the more unlikely is that Luke seems to also have added to the phrase the word all. Were Jesus and John all of Wisdom’s children? Jacobsen and Robinson have seen the force of this point unlike Hartin, James and the Q Sayings of Jesus, 123. In Luke, all the children are surely those who do respond positively to Wisdom, but this fits quite awkwardly with 7:32, which suggests only rejection of Jesus and John and suggests a Lukan modification of the source. (Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom [Fortress Press: First paperback edition 2000], pp. 226-227; bold emphasis ours)

In fact, Jesus is actually equated with Yahweh in the immediate context of Luke 7!

“Then John’s disciples told him about all these things. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord, asking, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?’ When the men reached Him, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to ask You, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?”’ At that time Jesus healed many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and He granted sight to many blind people. He replied to them, ‘Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed.’” Luke 7:18-23

Here, Jesus does the very miracles which the OT says Yahweh will do when he comes to deliver his people!

“The wilderness and the dry land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose. It will blossom abundantly and will also rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon.  They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, steady the shaking knees! Say to the cowardly: ‘Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; He will save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the parched ground will become a pool of water, and the thirsty land springs of water. In the haunt of jackals, in their lairs, there will be grass, reeds, and papyrus. A road will be there and a way; it will be called the Holy Way. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks the path. Even the fool will not go astray. There will be no lion there, and no vicious beast will go up on it; they will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk on it, and the redeemed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.” Isaiah 35:1-10

Jesus then goes on to identify the Baptist as the messenger spoken of in Malachi 3:1:

“After John’s messengers left, He began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft robes? Look, those who are splendidly dressed and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. This is the one it is written about: “Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You; he will prepare Your way before You.” I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’” Luke 7:24-28

What makes this identification rather remarkable is that the prophet Malachi states that this messenger is sent to prepare for the coming of Yahweh God to his temple!

“‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way BEFORE ME. Then the Lord (ha adon) you seek will suddenly come to HIS temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts.’” Malachi 3:1

And yet, by saying that John is that messenger, Jesus was basically claiming to be the very Lord whom the prophet said was coming to his very own temple, since the Baptist himself stated that he was sent ahead of Christ to prepare his way!

“Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were debating in their minds whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with a fire that never goes out.’ Then, along with many other exhortations, he proclaimed good news to the people.” Luke 3:15-18

“Paul said, ‘John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.’” Acts 19:4 – cf. Mark 1:4-8; Matthew 3:11-17; John 1:6-9, 15, 26-36; 3:22-36

In other words, the Baptist is the Lord Jesus’ messenger whom Christ sent to prepare for his coming!

In light of this, can there be any doubt that the last thing Luke intended to do was to identify Christ as one of Wisdom’s children along with the Baptist?

Hence, contrary to Williams’ assertion, there is no major evolution in the NT portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, the NT presents a consistent picture of Christ, one that affirms his divine prehuman existence as God’s Wisdom/Logos and beloved Son who was sent forth from the Father’s very own presence to become flesh in order to save his people from their sins:

“For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit… He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:3-4, 32

"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:4-7

“‘She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Matthew 1:21-23

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:11

“He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Ruler and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Acts 5:31

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.” John 3:16-18